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Karen Elliott House Education. (2013) 'On Saudi Arabia Its People, past, Religion, Fault Lines -- and Future.'

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Islam 6, U.s. 6, Saudis 4, Abdullah 3, Texas 3, Us 3, King Abdullah 2, Lulu 2, America 2, New York 2, Washington 2, Obama 1, Ronald Reagan 1, Frustrati 1, Gorbachev 1, Mohammad Saluda 1, Mohammed 1, Wilburn 1, Mr. Wahhab 1, Abdullah Al Saud 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Karen Elliott House  Education.  (2013) 'On Saudi Arabia  
   Its People, past, Religion, Fault Lines -- and Future.'  

    March 24, 2013
    7:00 - 8:00am EDT  

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provides an inside look at history, culture and politics of saudi arabia, which she covered for 30 years. this is about an hour. >> thank you very much. it's a real pleasure to be. i'm honored by being invited to deliver this lecture. doctor wilburn graciously said my latest book, i've got to confess it's my only book. [laughter] but i spent 30 years, as he said, going to saudi arabia, mostly as a reporter or foreign editor, talking to saudi officials about oil, iraq, iran, arab-israeli, u.s.-saudi, so geopolitical issues.
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and when i retired from the journal in 2006, the one thing i was really interested in doing with my newfound time was trying to understand saudi society. how did saudis look at each other, what was the society like, how did they look at their rulers, how do they look at us? and as i speak about saudi arabia, everyone constantly asks me, why did you do that? why did you spend five years, month after month, going there? dressed in my long black -- my editor asked me that when i turned in the manuscript. she said, you know, why did you do this? and i said, because it's interesting. and she said there is is
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interesting. [laughter] so why did you do this? make me understand. that was her only editing point on the book. so i will try to make you understand why i found it both fascinating and important. saudi arabia is probably the strangest country you will never see. it is so different from our own. a woman there never reaches the age of maturity. she is always under the control of some man. she cannot go to her son school. she cannot even see her son graduate. she obviously doesn't drive. we all know that. she doesn't appear in public
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without being covered. in the worst situations she is simply chapel for a man to do as he wishes with. that's not the norm, i hasten to add, but it does happen. it's a very religiously dominated society in which men obey allah, and women all day men. and allah is distant, and men are at hand. it is probably less strange to me than it is to most visitors because of my own background. like matthew here who is from a little town in alabama, i'm from a little town in texas, 900 people with four churches, one blinking stoplight and no movie
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theaters. so religion was what people did. everyone went to church, and my father was far more conservative than the average person in the town. we were not permitted to wear pants, shorts, no alcohol, no dancing, no musical instruments in our church of christ. in lots of ways i was quiet at home in saudi arabia. [laughter] i devoted my time to trying to figure this country out precisely because i think it is the one arab country that is truly strategic. not only because it is the world's largest exporter of oil, which sustains the western way of life, but because saudi
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arabia, i am convinced, will be critical in the ultimate resolution of what is the proper islam which is going on now between the radicals, jihadists if you will, and the more modernizing muslims. and that very battle also goes on inside saudi arabia. to try to understand this society, i knew you would like someone coming to to write a book about america, you wouldn't be able to go to washington and new york and claim to understand america. so i had to be confident that i could get outside of riyadh, there washington, and their new york. and i was permitted to, over those five years, i went all over the country and i saw all
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kinds of evil, a lot of the royal family but also very poor people, men, women, young people, old people. and it was an advantage, frankly, to be a woman because you could talk to both men and women. a western woman in saudi arabia is basically an honorary man. so men are, most men are prepared to talk to, even some of the senior religious officials who of course believe it is wrong to be in the presence of a woman who's not your relative. in the beginning i had a one month, one entry visa. then i got three months visa, and then i was given a five year multiple entry visa. and at that point i came and went as i chose.
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i did not have to deal with a government minder. i would use a cell phone and i hired a car from hotel, and call friends and get them to pass me to other people. so my goal was not to describe what saudi arabia ought to be like but try to understand and describe what it was like. saw want to talk today first about some observations about saudi society, in second about what those observations might portend about its ability or vulnerability, and then lastly, about scenarios that u.s. policymakers, which may someday include some of you in the audience, might face. saudi society, this probably should not have surprised me, but it did, it is much more
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diverse than we in the west think. there are people who live quite western lives inside their homes, and there are obviously people who seek to live a seventh century life. it is also much more divided than i realized, and much more dependent on government, because most people work for the government. the divisions are quite steep, so it's not in my view really a country as much as it is a collection of tribes with the flag. and it is divided by region, by religious sect, the majority are sunnis but the our others, divided by gender. and people have a deep distrust of each other so they don't
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really mix much outside of their family. so when going to show you my version of how i think the society functions. this is a saudi, this little figure here, who was inside a family, who is inside a tribe, which is inside a country ruled by the religious establishment. and all of that is ruled by a royal family. and so it's a quite constricted, if you will, society. the religious establishment legitimizes the rule of the al saud by giving them the good housekeeping seal of approval for their religiosity.
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otherwise the al saud would be just another tribe. but 250 years ago, one of the al saud's met up with -- as in wahhabism. and mr. -- mr. wahhab wanted to conquer the area. and mohammad saluda wanted to conquer france also together they did conquer arabia because it was more productive to fight in the name of god than in the name of the al saud, and so that symbiotic relationship has existed ever since. people live literally behind walls so most people homes are
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some by walls 10 or 12 feet high. and they live inside even higher walls, figuratively. they are bound if you will buy, like a mummy in the bindings of tradition and religion so that there's a rigidity that keeps people from having much independence or individualism. at the internet and social media and satellite tv are penetrating those walls now in a big way. so that young people and 60% of the population of saudi arabia is under 20 years of age, so those young people have grown up without knowing an impoverished saudi arabia.
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only knowing, if you will, a decline one. the development was done in the '70s and '80s, and as the population has exploded, many of the services have actually deteriorated. so young people do not have a lot of gratitude to the royal family for what they did for them. they say, why haven't you done more? they are hearing through these media other versions of islam besides the wahhabi version. so they are also learning to question as well as communicate, which is a very new thing in saudi arabia. the country exists basically on the three pillars of stability. and in my view, all of those are cracking.
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religion is obviously one of them, and in a secular society like our own, it is almost impossible to imagine the omnipresence of religion in saudi arabia. every university like this, every shopping mall, every airport has rows of prayer rugs with the direction of mecca properly pointed so that people pray at the proper times during the day. elite class, shopping malls close -- they elite class, shopping malls close, everyone goes to pray. and i went one day, one weekend, which there would be thursday and friday, with a saudi family. the parents have been educated in the u.s., and they took me on a picnic out in the desert. and at the end of the evening,
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the family was praying the final prayer of the day. and i was sitting on a rug, and at the end of that, their six-year-old son came to me and he said, i need to teach you something. and i said, sure. and he said, do you know what to say when the angel of death comes? and he could tell i did not. so he proceeded, and he said, he says, who is your god? and you say allah. and then he says who is your profit? and you said mohammed. what is your faith? and you say islam. what are your works? and you said i heard an ugly. and muslims apparently believe that this great interview occurs immediate after you're buried, and if you been a good muslim and properly answer these questions, you are born aloft
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and shown a window on heaven, and then go back in your grave to await judgment day. and if you have not been a good muslim and cannot properly answer these questions, you are pulverized and put back together and pulverized and put back together for eternity, until the judgment day. so this little boy who had learned this in school, not from his parents actually, wanted to save me, that dreadful fate. i also lived to try to understand the very conservative religious mentality with a woman who, very conservative woman. she would have made my father look liberal. and she had translated for me at several dinners with andy moms
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mother and sisters and wife. so i asked her if i could live with her for a week, and she suggests. so behind the walls she opened the gate, and as we walked in she said, that's where she lives, meaning the first wife. and we went upstairs where this lady, named lulu, lived. and when her husband came up as he did every 24 hours, i had to go and hide in my room because obviously he was not supposed to encounter -- he knew i was there, but to encounter a woman who was not a relative. she had a tv, but they got only the religious channel which did not allow any women on because
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the saudis state tv does now have women with their heads covered, but their faces uncovered, and she regarded that as totally improper. and i convinced that she allowed me to do this because she wanted to convert me. and she spent a lot of time. actually, the first thing she made me do, she took out the family computer and dialed up a youtube video, six episodes, six-10 minute episodes by a fundamentalist preacher in texas. she had done her homework. [laughter] a fundamentalist preacher in texas who had converted to islam. and when that didn't lead to a conversion, she told her brother, and we had more discussion. i read the koran three times during this five year period because it was great fun to discuss religion with people.
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but all of this new information that young people and old people if they choose, have access to is eroding the credibility of the religious establishment, which increasingly is seen i really religious people like her doing the will of king abdullah, rather than the will of allah. and they point to things like mixing is wrong, and yet they have built a big new university called the king abdullah university of science and technology, which not only makes a saudi men and women, but mixes them with infidel men and women from all over the world. and when one of the 20 senior religious scholars was asked about the appropriateness of
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this on tv, he said it's wrong. and the king fired him because the king appoints these 20 people, and not surprisingly, many of the other senior men began to discover that the prophet had had his hair washed by women, and other things that made this okay. so people see this, if you will, double standard, and it has undermined it, the credibility of the religious establishment. obviously, with the deeply religious but also with those who don't mind the mixing at all, but just think it's, if they can can get the religious to approve this, why can't they make them approve more things like women driving or whatever.
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the second pillar of stability in the kingdom is obviously the oil wealth that buys them at least acquiescence, if not loyalty anymore, for the government and royal family. 90% of the treasury in saudi arabia comes from oil wealth. it's a country that does not tax people because there's a saying there, you know, here we have no taxation without representation, and that there it's no representation without taxation. and the royal family doesn't tax. therefore, you don't get the representation. but oil wealth, obviously, funds the jobs of saudis, and most all saudis work for the government.
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90% of the workers in the private sector are foreigners. so there are 19 roughly million saudis and eight to 9 million foreigners in the kingdom. because energy is subsidized and cheap, people waste it. and it has now become again a subject in the saudi press and discussed among saudis that what's going to happen if we continue to use more, and we're blessed to export come and its exports of oil to fund our lifestyle. now, it is possible that the government will find a way to tell people we're going to cut the subsidies, but in this post arab spring environment, they are inclined to take things some people.
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and the country is $500 billion in foreign reserves, so it's hardly broke, but there are saudis financial institutions who estimate that the government spending will exceed government revenues by 2014. goes after the arab spring when king abdullah came home from back surgery, he passed out $130 billion to the society on top of a $180 billion annual budget. so more money for students stipends, more money to the religious establishment, more money to everyone, and created a minimum-wage for the first time for saudis. obviously, not for foreigners. and lastly, is the royal family
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itself, the third pillar of stability which i think is weakening. the biggest internal issue in the kingdom i think is the aged and confirmed leadership. this latest saudi state was declared in 1932 by abdullah al saud. and when he died in 1953, the crown has passed from one of his, first to his eldest son and then from brother to half-brother to half-brother. so king abdullah is the fifth of those boys, and the old man had 44 sons by 22 wives, and 36 of them lived to adulthood, but they are all now rather elderly. the king is 90, and he has
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already outlived, and only seven years, two of his brothers as crown prince. he is on his third crown prince. so it's very reminiscent of the old soviet union in the '80s, when brezhnev, have to brezhnev died and was replaced by elderly and drop off who died quickly and was replaced quickly by -- who died quickly and was finally replaced by gorbachev, but by then it was too late to save the system. so as ronald reagan said at that time when they were basically three soviet leaders in a little over three years time, they keep dying on me. [laughter] and that's what i think president obama and future american presidents are going to be dealing with. certainly here in the next four years.
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they have no ability to agree yet on the son of one of these brothers, because the 36 branches each year that if my son gets it, your son, your whole branch is disenfranchised because we will pass it down in our branch because it is not, it was easy to pass a from brother to brother, but how do you decide if you going to pass it from cousin to cousin, which cousin, when there are hundreds of them? the king tried to get around that by having an allegiance council with one person from every branch of the family that would decide, but when his first crown prince die, that group apparently met and one of the brothers said, i should be the next crown prince, and the king said no, i'm picking another brother. and that wasn't the end of one
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man one vote within the royal family. they never had the vote. there was an expression and a decision. so young saudis do worry just normal ordinary saudis, about what will happen. will these cousins, if you will, quarrel with each other when the time comes? because there are three basic units in the kingdom, a defense ministry, national guard, and the huge interior operation that watches people and guards the oil facilities. so a lot of saudis fear that some out each of these is run by a prince, three cousins, but they will perhaps fight with each other, which has happened in the past among the royal family.
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it's what brought down the second saudi state in the late 1880s. so if you're just a normal saudi talk about what is my plan b. and most people don't know what their plan b is. so there's a lot of nervousness, a lot of frustration. and because this is a country that has no experience whatsoever with self-governance, or even individual responsibility or civil society, they don't, most of them, a few talk about democracy, but most of them simply want what they describe as justice, and what they say they mean by that is a government that is more transparent, more accountable, more rule of law. where there are clear rules and
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they are enforced equally, not enforced, or not enforced as is often the case, but enforced based on who you are. i think this brings me to the what could happen. obviously, one scenario is the continuation of the status quo, which i tend to think is the most likely, certainly in the short run, because the family i think a, can't bring itself to agree on the other leader yet, and b, even though many of them say there has to be change, they don't agree on what that change is. so the status quo is the easiest thing. and the risk of that, obviously, is further economic stagnation
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and stall suffocatisuffocati on and more unemployment. unemployment among young saudi men, 25 and 24, is roughly 40%. and 40% of people live uzbek saudis, not foreigners, saudis live on less than $1000 a month, so they are not all rich. and, indeed, that wealth disparity is a source of anger among a lot of saudi speak another option is that the society -- there is some younger prince who tries to open up a bit and revive the economy. the risk of that is, it produces a backlash among the conservatives who don't want more change and openness and opportunity for women, which they see as the road to ruin if you're like my friend, lulu.
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and if you got a religious backlash come you could obviously have the quote modernizers, and that does not mean westernized. modernizers. react to that backlash. the third is getting a leader who decides that the way to control this is to revert to the excessive religiosity of the '80s and '90s, after the attack on the mecca mosque in 1979, the saudi king basically turned the country over to the religious fundamentalists. and 20 years of that bread of the terrorists that produced 911. so saudis understand that, but, and say that it could happen again, but it, it's hard to
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entirely rule out. the fourth option is obviously some kind of chaos that leads to collapse, sparked by something like in tunisia like the young man burning himself to death. saudis are very passive, but they also, young people at least, increasingly question why can't we have more? why does the royal family take more than their share? so it may be as the royal family likes to say, and as many in u.s. government believe, that the status quo will hold, that there've always been predictions about the royal family and they always come through. i personally think it could be different this time, simply because of the external pressure
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in the region against the status quo. and because of the internal information and user frustrati frustration. and lastly, because the royal family is in this very difficult transition period. but i will close with my metaphor for this society, which was, which i used in the book, of a 747 flying with the cockpit full of geriatric priestess, first class full of princess who would be king and take of the cockpit, and an economy full of frustrated young people, some islamist fundamentalists who want to turn the plane around and go back to the past, and
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some islamist terrorists who want to shoot the pilot and hijack the plane. and it continues to flood on, losing its oil wealth of the dude, and that there may be somebody on the plane who could land it but they are, seem unlikely to get an opportunity. and with that, i would like to take your questions. [applause] >> there will be a speaker, a microphone on either i'll. so if you'll just raise your hand, because of cnn we wanted to be sure you have the microphone in your hand when you start speaking. and have a close. we will start with a student question.
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if you want to give a speech, maybe see me afterwards. but if you have a question, this is a good time for it. >> thank you so much for today. i'm a first year student in the grad school. you deliberately, intentionally went to saudi arabia to enrich yourself in the culture. something that not many of us will have an opportunity to do. my question for you is, what, if anything is saudi arabia doing in the realm of public diplomacy to help westerners better understand them? >> that's a good question, what, if anything, is saudi arabia doing in the realm of public diplomacy. i think they're giving a few
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tourist visas, but not much. and i don't know though, it may exist, some kind of student exchanges. i know the u.s. brings saudi students here on these state department tours, and i met a young man there who actually had been very conservative, who confessed to beating u of his brother in the '80s for listening to music, and he came on, he was a sharia law graduate, and he came on a legal tour of the u.s. and it completely changed his mind. he said it was the first time i ever knew that a woman could have her head uncovered and not be a poor. i mean, they had so many misconceptions of us, just as we do of them. my first dinner with the imams
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family was very, very tense. he had his mother, his wife and his six sisters, and you know, they basically do you ever see your mother? they had this idea that american women are walking around, if not half dressed, in an office doing no telling what, and paying no attention to their parents or children, you know, and we are a family oriented society. you know, over time i think they got past that. but i'm a big fan of exchanges in both direction, but i do not know how much, what you're doing to encourage people. i don't think they're doing a lot to encourage the average person to visit saudi arabia.
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>> hundred yes, sir. >> the brand of islam practiced in saudi arabia is more conservative than that in a lot of, and the rest of the muslim world. however, in a lot of ways they seem friendlier to the west, and maybe it has to do with the sale of oil and the necessity of that to continue their revenue stream. now, you spoke at saudi arabia basically started between the al saud family wanting to conquer -- the religious element, the wahhabism also wanted the same thing but for different reasons. now, my question is, does religion basically continued to be used by the modern society royal family and other elites to continue to control the population inside of a disingenuous way? are they actually religious?
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>> that obviously depends on the individual saudi, but there's no question that religion is used to control the society. the official position and what is preached repeatedly by the religious establishment. and it is the only organization in the country. there are 70,000 mosques, and there are no other organizatio organizations. and the view of these religious people is that you must not cause chaos. so you must, if you want to challenge something, you must do it privately. there's a whole islamic debate about what's the proper way to confront your leader. but in saudi arabia, the fundamental view of the religious is you do not confront
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them publicly. so when osama bin laden said on communist, my islamist you come and they hasten to point he is not a religious scholar, but when he challenged the royal family in the '90s, his view was it's okay to call, to call them out on not being properly religious. but it's not the common view. so religion does put something of a straitjacket over people. the imam and mentioned his wife and family i spent a lot of time with, and with them, you know, he was very critical, but when i asked him is it okay to confront
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your rulers, even he said no. because the big fear is of chaos, of causing a lack of harmony in the unity of believers. the ummah as the color, the committee of believers, in keeping harmony that is very important. so this is not real harmony, at least to pretend harmony. you don't publicly, which is the reason why, you know, people can do all kinds of things in their home from drinking alcohol having dinner with women they are not married to or other gatherings, is that if it's in private it does not disrupt the harmony of the community. if you do things in public that, if you will, flout the norm,
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that's what's bad. >> i was wondering if -- [inaudible]. i was just wondering about the banking, you know, wells fargo or b of a, how do they get their fdic? i mean, is it a regular bank that they all go to in saudi arabia? or do they have a lot of american bank's? >> they have a lot of banks. there's a dutch bank, a british bank, a french bank, a lot of saudi bank. obviously, the saudi banks there is the need to purport to be sharia correct. so not to earn interest. and they have various ways, and that banks have sharia experts
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who tell them how to do this. and it's another thing the very religious find very inappropriate, that you're not supposed to mix. you're not supposed to turn -- not supposed to earn interest. you're not supposed to have infidels in the country, but the religious establishment approved the presence of u.s. troops in 1990 when it was necessary. you're not supposed to have movie theaters, but on the king's new university campus there's a mosque and a movie theater side by side. there's also one at an oil company, but the religious are not permitted inside the oil compound. which is obviously acceptable because it's a company that funds not only the religious but
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the entire country. and this is the thing that really eats at deeply religious people who would like to have a genuine islam back to the seventh century where we don't do these things, whether prophet mohammad ate out at a communal plate, we should be doing that. so it's the divide in the country i think does get bigger as king abdullah has tried to do a few things, giving scholarships to nearly 140,000 saudis to study abroad, including women. putting 30 women in this 150 person -- which has no power other than the power of debate, but that is again for the really
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conservative, a totally inappropriate thing. you could have women, and even though they are separated and covered, it's not proper. in their mind. so as he does these things, their opposition grows, and as the opposition grows, you know, the modern tries. so it is a tug-of-war, and there is, a fifth -- leader of the faithful, set up in damascus, and he lasted for 20 years when the first four had all been, although one, killed by somebody rather quickly. said he was asked, how did you last so long? and he said, and this is what is practiced by the royal family
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now, i hold a pair between me and my people. when they pull, i yield. when they yield i pulled. and that is exactly what happens in saudi arabia when the pressure builds, they king passes out money, or sends students abroad. if the pressure builds in the other direction, people are not pulling, these things can rollback, as they did in the '80s. so for instance, and then i will stop on this, but they came, they had elections for an invisible government in 2005 again, as part of the 911 staying in the rest of the world. and women of course were not permitted to vote, but there was supposed to be another election in 2009, and they were told they
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might be able to. win 2019, there was no election for anybody. and then in 2011 came after the arab spring, suddenly there was an election. for men, not women. but there was a need to be seen to be giving something. so wedded been promised but not given was then given. so that's largely how things work. as saudi say, some of them say two steps forward, one step back. sounds -- some say two steps back in one step forward. but whatever do you take, it's a small margin for maneuver. yes, sir. >> thank you very much. i'm in communications.
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i had a chance to go to saudi once, and -- [inaudible]. they are talking about what you mentioned, they're talking about lots of, and it, like the people surround the kingdom. never talk about the king himself. >> it's always someone else's fault. >> in any kingdom or any kind of structure in the country, they are a taboo to talk about the king. but many cases people indirectly complain to the king instead of saying he is -- [inaudible] your how would you think like came can be -- or king himself can be
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the future? >> what's the question? >> the question is, you know, king can be like a cushion to the frustration, or he can be a target for future. >> so, is he an absorber of frustration or a target for that frustration. i think you're right, that whoever the king is, people, even complainers, the worst that anybody will say, at least to me about king abdullah is he's surrounded by bad people who don't tell him what's going on and he's an old man and he doesn't know. and they never criticize him directly, or almost never. so the king obviously is somebody that is all powerful if
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he chooses to be. because whenever this king makes up his mind to do something, he does it like the university, or there was a woman who was forcibly divorced from her husband by her brothers who insisted -- the father never had given permission. once the father died they wanted a sister to divorce. she refused once she was divorced, she refused to go home with her brothers, and she couldn't go home with her husband. so she insisted on staying in jail, which she did for four years. and the case got a lot of publicity and eventually became involved himself to get a new judicial decision which allowed the couple to remarry. so he is very much above the fray. or become a target, i think it's
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likely to stay that way, that the royal family may be a target him if you will, of complaints, but they were probably continue to be, people continue to give the king personally a pass and expect him to get involved and absorb things. and the royal family clearly can read the press. there's been a very big case of a religious man who beat his five year old to death, and i saw just before coming out. somebody sent me a story, assuming it's true, a story that the royal family has intervened to keep that man in prison for now. and not let him get out after four months. because, you know, they can hear when people are upset about
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things. and because they king is basically all powerful when he chooses to use it, they can do what they wish. but again, tethered to the religious and the need to retain their approval from the religious establishment, because when the first brother succeeded in 1953, and he and his second brother basically quarreled for 10 years because the new king bankrupt the country, and in the end the family decided not to get rid of him and take king faisal. and the religious establishment was in essence called them to bless that.
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so i think a lot of royals need to always be able to be in the good graces of the religious establishment. in them might need them when they come against each other. not just to help you with the people. we have to go, but i thank you all very much. [applause] >> you're watching booktv on c-span2. 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books every weekend. >> when i started to write it, there's one thing i wanted to accomplish. when you write a memoir, and i've read many of them through my life, you sometimes come away asking your question, asking yourself the question. did i learn anything new about this public person?
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regrettably, often i read books, memoirs or autobiographies and thought to myself, really didn't learn much that i didn't already know. i didn't want to write that kind of book i wanted to write something different. something where at the end of this the reader could come away and say to themselves, i think i know her. and so with my beloved world intended in part to do? what is in my heart and soul, and in doing that, i hope to show you who i was, but also to show you a little bit of you. and there was a purpose for doing that, and the purpose is
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captured in one part of my book. it's probably my favorite passage. and so i read it to you because it summarizes one of the very important reasons i read this book. it's on page 178 and it reads, when a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become, whether lawyer, scientist, artist or later in any realm, her goals remain extra. such models are on books and on the news, however aspirant for the review. we need to be super true. let alone influential. but a role model in the flesh
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abides more than an inspiration. his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one might have every reason to doubt, saying yes. someone like me. and so it was my hope that every child, and, frankly, every adult who read this book would say, what i said during my confirmation -- that my confirmation, my nomination speech, yes, she's an ordinary person, just like me. and if that ordinary person can do it, so can i. and that's what i tried -- [applause]
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-- to do in the stories of this book. to tell you my experiences and my feelings. as i perceive them at the time. and you'll find me talking and the trials, and then give you the reflections of the untold of me. wasn't so easy to do to put myself back in time, and to tell you what i was feeling. but i did it for a purpose. and that purpose was to tell you what i've learned from those experiences. and in the process, to have hope that every single person in this room who has experienced even one of the difficulties i have faced in life, and those
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difficult things are as diverse as growing up in poverty, having a chronic disease, and it's surprising how many people suffer from a chronic disease, and live their lives never talking about it. to being a child raised by a single parent, facing discrimination, and whether it's about my ethnicity or my gender, or it's about my background, we each feel the sting of it in some way. to simply being afraid, which i think most people experience, and we all create a bravado about we are okay. we can do this. it's easy to say, it's hard to do. and so i talk about those things
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in as ordinary a way as i can, and as candid and has opened away as they could in order, i hope, to give people courage to talk about and rethink their own experiences. there was a second purpose of this book. the books that i loved other books that i've read and make me think on different levels. that deliver more than one message. because there is a beauty i think in reading books as discovering new things. and you will learn about how i used books after my father's death to escape the unhappiness in my home. and they became a rocket ship
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out of that unhappiness, what a rocket ship that landed me on our universes of the world when i found science fiction, the understanding places that i thought i would never get to visit. i know gratefully have the wherewithal to do it, but i found india and africa, and places that i've heard about on television, but never imagined knowing it and i learned about that through books. i hope that every child in this audience, and any child who hears me speaking, understands that television is wonderful, but words paint pictures in a way that nothing else can. >> you can watch this and other programs on line at

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